Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Social media, Voter Complexity, Anger & Democracy 4

I went to see a production of snow white recently (long story). Anyway, it was good, innovative, at times very funny & very cleverly done. It was also THE MOST WOKE PERFORMANCE ever. I could write an entire book about how woke it was, but suffice to say one of the dwarfs had to be sedated at one point because they temporarily ‘lost their mind’ and talked about building a wall, and keeping out immigrants. There was a lot of talk about recycling, carbon-neutrality, organic tea, the patriarchy, gender-roles, body image and so on.

Did I mention this was snow white?

Naturally the dwarves didn’t do any mining, which I guess was against their eco-agenda.

Now I AM a massive environmentalist, and should have found it very funny, and loved all that, and I’m a remain voter so should have loved the jibes at Boris Johnson and leave voters and brexiteers etc…but it was a little bit painful in places to watch it happen. Don’t worry, I will relate this to democracy 4!

(Some environmentally irresponsible dwarfs)

The problem is, the writers had obviously 100% decided that the audience would TOTALLY agree with them on every issue they mentioned. If you were a brexit-supporter, or a conservative, or against gay marriage, or a conservative, or not 100% into identity politics, you would have hated it, but its fine because they KNEW that people can be basically stuck into two camps now: The liberal, bearded eco-warrior socialist europhile pansexual feminist…and everyone else (who are *bad* people). Their view of the world is a venn diagram where two circles do not even touch.

This is nonsense.

The real world is more complex. You do NOT have to *pick a side* and stick to it. You can absolutely pick and choose. Here are some of my own very mixed-bag beliefs and causes:

I support a 100% inheritance tax (in theory), I support a slightly higher top rate tax. I support limits on immigration, I support staying in the EU. I’m 100% an environmentalist. I’m a feminist but have mixed views on positive discrimination. I am against the death penalty, but have no strong view on fox hunting. I’m for electoral reform, proportional representation, Higher salaries for MPs, against a higher-minimum wage, against rent-controls, pro-choice, pro-legalizing marijuana, pro-sugar tax, anti-gun ownership and so on…

I’m all over the place. I’m 100% environmentalist, 75% liberal (less identity politics please), 25% motorist, 90% capitalist, 65% retired, 5% Young, 1% ethnic minority (ancestors were gypsies apparently), and so on… We represent the way people are all-over-the-place in Democracy 4 in the focus groups like this:

(BTW that is another shot of ‘dark mode’ which some people prefer, still a work in progress…)

My point is, that people are complex. There are not just two camps…or at least there never USED to be just two camps, but we are moving that way. In the US, people seem to increasingly be Woke/Liberal/Democrats OR Trump-supporters. You basically have to pick a side. In the UK we are either remainers or brexiteers…pick a side! And this is silly.

NOTHING about environmentalism makes it a socialist position. NOTHING about animal cruelty is left or right wing. NOTHING about brexit or patriotism, or feminism is left or right wing. Its only a recent phenomena that has taken every issue and tried to polarize it and stuff it into these two violently opposed camps.

I honestly do blame social media. People have become so used to picking and choosing ‘the news thats right for you’, that they are increasingly only fed what they want to hear. If you are a fiscal conservative, you are on the ‘anti-environment’ side, so you get fed FUD and nonsense on the topic, even though in many ways conserving natural resources, increasing energy efficiency, and investing in fuel sources that are free is a very fiscal-conservative point of view.

(Famous right wing prime minister Margaret Thatcher in her pro-EU sweater)

Similarly if you are left wing in the UK, you get fed an exclusively pro-EU agenda, even though there is no real link there. Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn was passionately opposed to the EU his whole life, and it was seen as a tool of neoliberalism by the hard left, until everyone was told to pick a side, and the capitalists had already claimed anti-EU…

Anyone who thinks you can not be a patriotic socialist or a fiscally conservative environmentalist or a right wing feminist has bought into this stuff. Social media is making it WAY WAY worse. The whole design of social media is to make us all ARGUE and FIGHT and oppose the ‘other side’. Its corrosive. FFS stop encouraging it.

In the last 28 days I did 90 Tweets. That number used be around 300. I’m going to aim for it to be maybe 4 or 5, which will be just links to this blog. Social media is tearing communities apart and forcing everybody to be argumentative and abusive. And like I said before, this is all to make a handful of straight white male American billionaires richer.

My year => 2019 <=

I’ve really taken to trying to avoid social media use lately, which came to angry prominence once during the year and again recently during the UK election, so I’m likely going to blog more, and continue to tweet less. Anyway, here was my 2019!

Personal stuff!

We had a few short mini holidays this year, one of which was to Bruge (Belgium) which is a great place to go to because you can just get a train there (no flying! yay!), another to the southwest of the UK (which I drove to), and one long flight, which was to Canada. I always offset my flights, and try not to do it often, but it was justified as a combined holiday, and 50th birthday and biz trip to a games conference. Somehow, I have flown in 2 different helicopters this year. Thats just ‘indielife’ I guess.

By far the best thing I did was fly in a helicopter over the mountains near Banff. Truly amazing, and impossible to convey in mere pictures. It was an expensive treat but worth every single penny. Cannot recommend it enough.

Also somehow, in a drunken moment of panic, I booked a balloon trip (near where I live). This was a bit scary for me, as I dont like heights, but actually it was fine, a perfect day, and good fun. Something I always wanted to do.

I played the guitar more in the last year than I have in the previous ten years (at least). I got back into it a bit. I used to be pretty good, now I just cant physically keep my hands moving that fast, but its still something I find a nice distraction from constant work, and its a cool thing to be able to do now and then.

Charity Stuff.

Our second school in Cameroon opened, and I also re-did the war child thing at Christmas where we donate about $10k a year to children affected by war. Really proud to have done this for so long.

Eco stuff

I took part in an environmental demonstration locally (very low key), and also joined the extinction rebellion London protests, although did not get arrested, but did have a very heated ‘exchange of views’ with a fairly famous climate change denying media-whore who I will not dignify by printing his name. Really glad I attended. Current news makes it pretty clear that events are happening exactly as scientists told us they would. Future prospects depress me :(

Stock-market stuff

I still trade a lot on the stock market. I made some very optimistic trades as a day trader about a year ago, which forced me more and more and more into the red over the last year, resulting in a shockingly expensive margin call where I lost a bunch of money. I have now made every penny of it back, all on a single stock. This is an epic story worthy of its own HBO mini-series but is summed up in this simple chart :D

I am glad I stuck with it :D


Oh yes…I also run a games company. LoL. 2019 was a fairly stressful but definitely improving year. It was the year in which I made a shocking number of updates to my car-factory game Production Line, and also released not one but two pieces of DLC for it: Doors That Go Like This and the Design Variety Pack. Both have sold well, and broken even, but these things only really pay off over a few years.

As of this moment, the base game has sold a total of 114,000 copies on steam, plus a fair few pre-steam and on some other platforms. Its a $25 game, so thats not bad, plus I have a large back catalog of other games that continue to sell well on steam. We have sold 150,000 games roughly this year, a 24% drop of the previous year, which was boosted by being when Production Line was initially added to steam.

The stress of 2019 company wise has proven to be Democracy 4, which was originally slated to be shown to the public much earlier, but some stuff under-the-hood proved to be harder than expected, so although the current version of the game is now awesome and looks crisp and has some l33t new functionality, we are behind schedule, and probably going to go over-budget. However, I’m now working on it quite a lot, and have currently 1 SFX person and 2 artists working on content, and will very shortly be showing it off to people both on video, and in March at a show in London, which will be interesting.

Its hard to stay objective about Democracy 4. Lost of signs point to this being a successful game, and the ideal game for 2020, but I hate to be too cocky about how a game will do, and the release of any sequel is always plagued by people (normally the loud 0.1%) upset that you have dared make a sequel, or saying its just a re-skin, or whatever. I do dread having to deal with that sort of thing… but its part of selling to the public I guess :(

I expect 2020 will be just purely the year of Democracy 4. its a HUGE game (we rolled 4 expansion packs into the base game), and will likely be our biggest release ‘event’ so far, in terms of people wanting to play it. It will certainly be the most expensive game I’ve ever released. Fingers-crossed it works out, and I don’t look an idiot :D. I am optimistic though. Democracy 3 already looks old, clunky and tired compared to the new game.

Social Media & other Stuff

2019 is the year I clashed badly with social media, and the internet. Not in the usual sense, that if you have known me over the years you will know I have got involved in controversy a lot and drawn the attention of people a lot… This year, I actually managed to avoid that, at least in public.

Certain events during the year (nothing related to me) made me realize just how AWFUL social media is. The angry hate mob was out in full force, directing righteous furious anger at whatever individual or group was determined to be the hate-figure of the day. I’ve seen online hate mobs practically salivating over the potential to drive people to suicide, and its just horrible. Combine this with the mess that is modern politics and ‘fake news’ and people happily sharing stories that are not true, and I think 2019 is the year the internet broke, and became a torrent of abuse, not an amazing place filled with information.

I carried out a few steps to isolate myself from all this crap this year. I quit a newsgroup I’d been in for many years, quit a forum I’ve been on for over a decade, removed all my posts from one I’d been in for fifteen years, deleted 75% of my facebook friends, and left every single facebook group and page that wasn’t for one of my games. I vowed to tweet less, not discuss anything contentious online, and reminded myself I should freely block and mute anybody who is rude or abusive.

I just don’t need, or want any of this. Also its totally optional. A friend of mine has a VERY successful indie games biz and he tweets maybe once a month, and he does write-only, he never even reads twitter. He is a hero.

One of the reasons I intend to blog more and tweet less, is that this blog is mine. Its not even hosted by wordpress, its on a dedicated server. if you are abusive, you get blocked for life, no come-backs, no exceptions. ah… *bliss*.

Things I enjoyed

Succession. TV show loosely based on a fictional Murdoch family. Amazing. Watch it

Silicon Valley. TV show, final series was this year, fantastic, loved it.

The Goldfinch. Great movie. I didn’t expect to like it…not my kinda thing. but it was a very nice surprise.

Samsung stupidly wide monitor. Absolutely amazeballs. Couldn’t imagine gaming without it now.

Company of one. Business book, the joys of staying small.

So yeah…thats my 2019. Hope yours was cool :D

Progress on Democracy 4 speeding up

It must be hell being a ‘producer’ in the big budget triple-a games development system. The development of a video game proceeds at almost any conceivable rate other than linear. I’m sure for some games there is an immediate sprint of exciting new stuff…then a drought as bugs are fixed. In the case of Democracy 4, we have had a whole lot of under-the-hood re-coding with little to show for it visually, and now a sudden rush of cool stuff happening.

Of course a lot of this tracks from the point at which artwork and music and sfx start rolling in. I use contractors to develop music, sfx and art, so I don’t have the option of just hearing the odd new piece of music or peering over an artists shoulder to see how stuff is going. It can be hard to drill into people that “yup, you can send me new stuff EVERY DAY, its fine”. As a result, Democracy 4 seems to progress in sudden jumps and spurts when new stuff goes into the game.

When I talk to players of D3 about the new game, they are always focused on new options and content. What new policies will go in? what new events? what will they be able to do that they couldn’t do before. This is all vital stuff, and I’ve kept quiet and felt bad about discussing the games development for quite a while because we simply haven’t been working on that.

For ages, it feels like I’ve been tweaking the shape or size or color of buttons, the layout of dialogs, and jeff has been recoding the way everything gets rendered (especially text, allowing us to support Russian/Chinese when the game leaves early access rather than four years later…) This is all super-vital stuff, and i’m glad we have been giving it the attention that it definitely deserves, but its probably left an impression that D4 is a shiny re-skin rather than a proper sequel…which is not true.

I recently mentioned that we now have third party support (if people choose it), which is the first new feature. We have also discussed (and its on my personal todo list) adding support for nationalization and privatization to the game. This will make quite a difference, but we haven’t reeled off any of the new simulation data we will be adding to the game.

Today I added some new simulation values to the game: healthcare demand and Internet Speeds. These are both pretty cool. High tech means more healthcare options (operations & treatments) are possible, but also increase demand. Immigration and actual healthcare problems such as contagious diseases, alcoholism and obesity will also feed into demand. Balance this against private and public healthcare provision to work out if you have a hospital overcrowding crisis.

Internet speeds is a fun one because its a much-needed policy that allows us to make young people happy or unhappy depending on speed. I’ve also added an effect where it makes people more likely to be self employed, which is relevant to me, living in a tiny rural village where there are lots of people working from home. Internet speed is way more of an issue here politically than you would think.

Other stuff we added recently includes multinational tax avoidance (especially by tech firms, such as ones that rhyme with ‘moogle’ or ‘blapazon’), and a ‘diverted profits tax’ (also sometimes called a transfer-pricing tax) which helps to combat it. There are a LOT more to come, and yes, to avoid 99% of the replies…universal income will be one of them :D.

Because I have been a bit slack on blogging and am reducing my twitter usage, I should point out to anybody reading this that OH MY GOD, you can now get our awesome pharmaceutical cure-em-up ‘Big Pharma‘ on the Playstation, The XBox and on something called the Nintendo Switch. I think those are game ‘consoles’, which all sounds very young and hip to me. It sounds like a perfect Christmas gift to me. (but not for me thx, I’ve got a copy).